We’re Not That Different…

Over the last 17 days, I’ve done a bit of traveling:

  • Austin, Texas, USA to Caceres, Spain through
    • Memphis, Tennessee, USA
    • Amsterdam, Netherlands
    • Madrid, Spain
  • Caceres, Spain to London, England, UK through
    • Madrid, Spain
  • London, England, UK to Dublin, Ireland
  • Dublin, Ireland to Austin, Texas, USA through
    • Amsterdam, Netherlands
    • Detroit, Michigan, USA
    • Denver, Colorado, USA

via planes, trains, and automobiles with sunshine and rain and temperatures ranging everywhere from 58° F to 106° F. While tiring at times and stressful at others, I can look back and honestly say it was worth it, 100%.

When most people hear me speak of my job and the travels it requires, there’s usually two primary responses that I think are based on two types of personalities:

Extroverts – “Wow! You are so lucky. I wish I could travel the world for work…see all those places…stay in nice hotels…taste the foods….just get away”
Introverts – “Boy! I feel for you. I would hate to deal with the headaches of air travel security and delays…the headaches of figuring out train/bus/taxi travel…cramped hotel rooms…struggling in foreign languages…missing my friends and family at home”

So which type of person am I? I must confess that I often fall into both…as I suspect most others do, if they are honest with themselves.

Yes, I get to visit some great cities in the world like Dublin and Berlin, see an incredible skyline from the London office, and stay in pretty swanky hotels, like the Rey Juan Carlos I in Barcelona, Spain…and occasionally get an upgrade to business class ;).  I’d be lying if I said all the foods were great, but for the most part, I can’t complain. And if I’m being completely honest, it’s nice to just get away from the everyday cadence of life…especially when you work from home exclusively.

However, I also get to deal with the physical, mental, and emotional drain of flying to all these countries, as a 6’5″, 270lbs, black man…each of the 3 traits creating their own special travel burdens. I often have to stay in hotels with small rooms/beds/showers, TVs with shows that either have languages I don’t understand or programming I simply don’t “get”….and I won’t even go into the joys of sharing rooms.  The frequent travel makes it impossible to keep up with my basketball playing routine, where I both exercise and socialize.  Lastly, and most difficult to bear, is that I miss my beautiful (and now pregnant) wife and 2 yea r old son, who doesn’t completely understand where Daddy goes…but knows he doesn’t like it when Daddy has to get on the plane.

With all this said, how can I look back and say it was 100% worth it?  For me, it comes down to the people…the people I work with and those I meet throughout my travels.

I can say with all honesty, that I have a kick ass job. Is it perfect? No.  But I can’t see how working anywhere else would be any better.  And why is it “kick ass”?  I could say it’s because I get to help provide the world a choice in their operating system…a choice in the hardware they wish to run it on…and a choice in the applications they wish to use…by working on free open source software….more specifically, Ubuntu. But after thinking about it (while on the countless hours of flights and sitting in my Best Western hotel room in Detroit, during yet another unplanned layover), I’ve settled on the fact that it’s because of the people I work with. I have been given the privilege of managing a team of developers with truly extraordinary ability, working withing a management team made up of honest and selfless leaders who I truly consider friends, and for an owner who, despite what those in the public may say, is truly committed to his vision and the company he created to meet it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with great people before coming to Canonical, e.g. IBM’s Linux Technology Center, but somewhere along the way, either I, the department mission, the company, or all three changed…and it just became a job…something that pays the bills and puts food on my family’s table.

But interacting with the people I work with is only the half of it…it’s also the people I come across during my travels and the experiences I have with them. For example, I was recently in Caceres, Spain, about 4 hours west of Madrid, attending DebConf 9 (you’ll have to Google it if you don’t know what DebConf is…sorry). Going into the situation, I didn’t have any expectations nor preconceived notions of what it would be like, and was pleasantly surprised by the entire event. What made it so enjoyable was the people who participated. I marveled at the organizational capability of a completely voluntary led group of FOSS enthusiasts. Everything is done by people who are doing it for the pure love of Debian: from the setup of housing, to organizing food tickets and talk schedules, providing travel assistance and welcome packs, setting up wiki pages, and doing a impressive professional job of providing live video/audio streams for talks.  Developers meet in these hack rooms, where they sit down and hammer out code together…discuss policy…and come up with solutions to problems that they’ve been discussing via email and IRC for months. I made new friends, and reconnected with old (ran into a high school friend, who I had not talked to in over 15 years!…small world, huh), and while I don’t speak Spanish, was able to function quite well in Caceres with the help of those who did…or just by doing the all-so-familiar tourist action of pointing and pantomime :P. Unfortunately, this concept of cooperation at DebConf is tarnished a bit once people return home, and no longer have the social pressures of face-to-face contact (something for another blog on another day).

After Spain, I stopped by London for a few meetings, which is about as close as I got to feeling at home…mostly because they speak English there and I’m familiar with the city from frequent visits. On my last night there, I stopped by the Texas Embassy Cantina, near Trafalgar Square. Apparently, between the time Texas won its’ independence from Mexico and before it joined the Union, it was it’s own sovereign entity and England recognized it by allowing an embassy in London. The building is now a restaurant, full of Texas-related paraphernalia, Lone Star beer (and yes, people amazingly order it), and ID cards across the back of the bar from natives who wanted to leave something behind…I added my old Texas driver’s license to the collection ;). It was surreal to see people ordering margaritas, eating TexMex, and watching ESPN American on the bar TV, which was showing Lacrosse…a not so popular American sport, and DEFINITELY not Texan. 😛 The next day, I took the Dot2Dot shuttle service to the airport, where the driver thought I was an American football or basketball player, which is something I often experience in the US, but was a bit shocked that this type of stereotyping of a tall, bald, black man has been exported from our country. :/

My final stop on this business trip was Dublin, Ireland, where I would meet up with fellow colleagues to work for one week, together, on getting the next release of Ubuntu ready. While in route on Aer Lingus (seating made for Leprechauns), I got to see what happens when a traveler decides to get combative with security in the Flights to Ireland part of the airport. To make a long story short, he freaked out when he thought the plane was leaving him, got on board, and then was taken off by the police…what an idiot. Once in Ireland, we met with the local Ubuntu enthusiasts, visited pubs and had practically every stereotypical notion of the Irish and their drinking confirmed :). One pub, near to the hotel, had an older gentleman behind the bar, who ALSO thought I was an American football or basketball player…damn! At one restaurant, one of our waitresses had an American accent, and was apparently from Fort Worth, Texas…wow…again the world is smaller than I thought. Besides hosting our event, the hotel had people staying for this HUGE horse show, and boy were these people living in their own world. Some of them were what I would call “regular folk”, but most were dressed straight out of a Ralph Lauren/Hugo Boss add…with their kids doing the Ambercrombie and Fitch thing. During one evening in the hotel bar, before the “horse people” had returned from their event, a few of us chatted with the bar staff…and apparently they had the same htoughts about these people as we did! 😛 The hotel even had a nightclub attached, that a few us ventured into and boy was that not the classic nightclub scene, with incredibly loud music, annoying DJ, watered down drinks, and teens drinking way too much (lower age limit in Ireland…I think it’s 5 :P). During our stay we also visited the Guinness brewery, which I can sum up as being like walking into a Willy Wonka factory for beer…I was honestly looking for Oompa Loompas, singing songs, pouring barley into rivers of beer. 😛

My last memorable moments were on my flighs home. On my connecting flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, where I was fortunate enough to get a discounted business class seat. Apparently, a man had booked two coach seats, one for him and the other for his cello :/. I think the flight staff must have assumed it was an error, and double-booked a teenage girl in the seat (whose brother was also in coach and parents sitting behind me in business). Well…once he came on board and used both seats, she was seatless…and coach was full…but there was an empty seat next to me. Obviously, the right thing to do was to let her sit next to me, and fortunately the flight crew did. It was her first time in business class, and it was quite refreshing to see her react to the strange hot towel (which is damn weird, to be honest), take pictures of the dinner served (much more “elegant” than the military-style rations they provide in coach), and play with the chair’s multitude of buttons for adjusting it and navigating the personal TV.  I felt for her brother, who was in the first row of coach…you KNOW he had to be jealous…I know I would have forced a sharing or something with my sister :P.  The second moment was on my flight from Detroit to Denver, where the gentleman sitting next to me was intrigued by my “Mac-like” operating system running on my Lenovo (IBM) Thinkpad.  Over the next hour I explained to him Linux, Ubuntu, why Microsoft has a monopoly on the PC market, and introduced him to netbooks (had a Dell Mini 9 in my bag)…where he fell in love with the size.  The conversation ended with me giving him a business card and telling him to contact me if he runs into any problems installing Ubuntu on his HP laptop.

So that’s it…a VERY short synopsis of my travels over the last 2 1/2 weeks, and the one main thing that I have taken away from this trip is that we’re not that different.  No matter where you live, what you do for work or pleasure, or how much money you have, I promise you…you have more in common with someone you meet than you first think.  It’s a good reminder for me and those reading this, because life is too hard and short already to complicate things by focusing on differences.  In the words of Don Cornelius…Peace, Love, and Soul!

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About Robbie

I live in the awesome city of Austin, TX and work for Canonical, sponsors of the best damn operating system in the world...Ubuntu.

Posted on August 9, 2009, in Travel. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great post – so true about almost everything.

    One small point, Lacrosse is very much American (unless you don’t count Native Americans as Americans).

  2. yeah, good post. And, of course, here’s my 2 psychological cents to add…the responses to ur job could be based on 2 more personality types: openness and neuroticism. 😉

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